As the director of the California State GEAR UP program over the past 17 years, I have had the distinct pleasure to learn from and support a wonderful team of professionals in service to thousands of educators, students, families, and communities throughout the state of California. Our work has been driven by a deep commitment to social justice and equity for ALL in the pursuit of academic success. This is clearly demonstrated by the testimonials of those we serve, the positive outcomes of our efforts, the many lessons learned and contributions to the statewide and national school reform agenda. While we have had a significant impact in this important work, there is still much to do.Since 2001 I have worked alongside individuals and organizations that place a high value on educational equity and access which provided the foundation for true collaboration and meaningful relationships.In the words of First Lady Michelle Obama: “I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong; so don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope; never fear.”I live and work by these principles, which I believe are more important now than ever before. To my GEAR UP family and friends out there, know that there are moments every day that you have the opportunity to impact a students life. Seize these moments, work tirelessly to fight for those who don’t have a voice, and know that you will be on the right side of history.
GEAR UP Capacity Building Conference, Philadelphia, PA February 8-11, 2015
National calls emphasizing the importance of capacity building for sustainable development of grant funded education programs have been numerous. The U.S. Department of Education in partnership with NCCEP continues to invest time and attention to capacity building for successful programs like GEAR UP. Since 1999, the importance of these efforts has been embedded in the proposals and goals of NCCEP with support and programming based on continuous feedback, research, and professional best practices.
The February 2015 capacity building workshops were held in Philadelphia, PA the hometown of Congressman Chaka Fattah, the founder of the GEAR UP program. Full-day training modules were designed based on pre-survey information and input from NCCEP and feedback from GEAR UP directors. Participants were required to submit a self-assessment questionnaire in advance of the training to introduce them to the learning goals and to ensure maximum effectiveness based on participants responses. Time was provided during the sessions for facilitated networking to encourage building peer networks, deeper learning, and to create connections between programs.
Photo: Congressman Chaka Fattah with Kay Coelho and Brad Trimble
Why Conference Attendance Matters
Whether you are a newcomer to GEAR UP or a seasoned participant, capacity building presents multiple approaches to enlighten, inspire and inform your work. Many conferences concentrate tremendous efforton the concrete material outcomes and far less on practical, tangible and significant outcomes that do not translate monetarily: the feeling of belonging to a group with shared professional interests and commitment to the work, applicable content knowledge from presentations and vendors, networking and interacting withpeers and experts in the field. Attending presentations, when there are so many to choose from can be a hit-or-miss adventure. The value of this experience is unique to each individual which is why NCCEP works hard to fully engage the audience in these conferences.
“When I was a GEAR UP coordinator, attending conferences gave me more confidence and assurance because I learned that I was doing the right thing in my work and also that I could “step things up” by trying other methods, incorporating technology, and doing more investigating through further research. These simple changes can have a powerful effect on your professional philosophy and practices, often without your being aware of it. It also serves to remind you of the importance of remaining open to change, being a team player and sharpening your skills.”
Sean Brennan-California GEAR UP
Education professionals typically use the term capacity in reference to the perceived abilities, skills, and expertise of school leaders, teachers, faculties, and staffs—most commonly when describing the “capacity” of an individual or school to execute or accomplish something specific, such as leading a school-improvement effort or teaching more effectively. The term may also encompass the quality of adaptation—the ability of a school or educator to grow, progress, or improve. Common variations include educator capacity, leadership capacity, school capacity, and teacher capacity, among others. The impact of this experience is described here by a first time attendee, Kay Coelho:
“I am grateful for all that I learned and the connections made at the conference. I believe that the California GEAR UP program… will in many cases have the fortunate opportunity to be the “first” to inspire and motivate youth and communities. The first to give a member of our communities confidence to understand their individuality, attend a higher education institute and change the course of their life. Be it a young person, a single mother, an only parent, or a community member. We will give an individual their first opportunity to succeed at college and a career.
Overall the Capacity Building Workshop in Philadelphia gave me ideas on how we can collaborate more efficiently together as a team. It gave me insight toward understanding that in order to build a strong team, we need to understand each other’s’ compelling WHY and complement each other. We should work with each other and not against each other, to be the first to inspire and motivate, and change the course of an individual’s future.
Once we understand WHY we do this work, we can explore HOW we do it, create a plan and inspire the compelling WHY for others.
Kay Francesca Coelho-California GEAR UP
California Partnership Initiative (CPI): A Call to Action
“We should be complementary, and not in competition,” said Whole School Services Coach Brad Trimble, during the California Partnership Initiative meeting hosted by California State GEAR UP the first evening of the conference. According to Shelley Davis, Director of California GEAR UP: “The initiative has been created to formalize the collaboration of the State GEAR UP program and GEAR UP partnership projects. This statewide effort will strengthen our network and build upon our good work in service to schools, students, families and communities. We must be intentional about working together to improve school culture and to ensure college and career readiness for all students.”
CPI was designed in response to the national call for GEAR UP programs to operate more co-operatively within regions, to create a support network of professionals with similar work, challenges, and programatic goals. A long standing component of GEAR UP has been innovation and creative program design.
“I feel it is important for the California GEAR UP programs to collaborate because together we can achieve more. We strengthen each other, learn from each other, and provide support for each other. I have 30 years of experience with college access programs, including TRIO, and I know that these programs and the staff who provide direct services would not have been as effective as they are without collaboration and support from other programs staff. We cannot operate in silos. We can create bigger and more lasting change together; we can influence people, especially policy makers, together. Ultimately this collaboration will benefit our students, our families, and our State.”
Sue B. Huizinga–Associate Director, Regional Services College OPTIONS/GEAR UP Programs
Photo: Palomar College GEAR UP Team at CPI Meeting
CPI will follow up with plans to meet at the National GEAR UP Conference in July in San Francisco. For more information on the State GEAR UP programs and GEAR UP partnership projects check out the interactive map on our website at www.castategearup.org
Sessions Designed by and for Attendees
In the true spirit of capacity building, tracks were selected based on the feedback from the 2014 CBW and in direct response to
The 2015 CBW workshop tracks were as follows: The Directors’ Network, GEAR UP 101, Parent Engagement, Evaluation Showcase, Grant Management, Advancing College Readiness, Strategies for First-Year Post-Secondary Success, The Coordinators’ Catalyst Network, Helping Students Earn College Credit in High School, and Closing Gaps in STEM Learning and Careers. The CBW also offered five general sessions and several roundtable discussion sessions.
“I was fortunate to co-facilitate a Roundtable session with the program director from Massachusetts GEAR UP, Robert Dais. We chose an open space format that flowed very well as participants discussed common challenges and successes across four areas of our work as State programs. Even though the session was on the last day and just before lunch, the room was full and energy was high with lots of sharing. We collected ideas from this session that will be shared with NCCEP and with our program in regional events and through the California Partnership Initiative. We all bring teams from our staffs to this conference and bring back valuable information, tools and ideas, many of which stem from professional connections made with other participants from throughout the country.”
Shelley Davis-California GEAR UP
Photo: Participants enjoy networking at the conference
Roundtable discussions are among the most flexible format offered at the conference, and may look quite different from session to session. The one thing that they have in common is that each allows for extended discussion among a small group. Roundtables are excellent venues for giving and receiving targeted feedback, having in-depth discussions, and meeting colleagues with similar interests. Grantees from CA were very impressed with this format and felt the discussion allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of their work while learning from the professionals in the room. Many remarked this was the highlight of the conference as it helped them learn while creating a network that will support them in their work at home.
Materials and other information from the conference sessions are found on the NCCCEP website.